This hideaway is worth the rather rocky little trip.
As you enter the Gibbston Valley, a magnificent sight greets you : a stunning vineyard, clinging to the hillside, tantalizingly close, but separated from you by a large gap containing the roaring Kawarau River far below.
This vineyard view is soon followed around the bend by a sign that welcomes you to "Gibbston Valley - The Valley of Vines".
Taking a right turn just before this sign will lead you up a rough thin road that suddenly rises up the bluff and clings to the cliff side, lined by poplars and exhilarating to drive a long, before it drops you down right between the vines and leads you to a small hill containing the winery of Chard Farm.
At Chard Farm's Cellar Door I was hosted this day by the lovely Mitch, who was more than happy to chat about the background info that I wanted to know.
Chard Farm is actually a reasonable sized player within Central Otago being one of the early founders of this areas wine industry, though at only around 22,000 cases per year (roughly 580 tonnes of grapes received for 2014) they are still a modest producer on the national scale.
This is by no means a bad thing however, in fact I think it is one of the great advantages of Central Otago, even the largest producers don't approach 100,000 cases a year and that means that in many cases there is a lot of hand-harvesting, barrel selections, whole-bunch presses and other fine personal choices made by the winemakers, leading to much more personal wines.
First up for tasting was a back to back of two of their Chardonnays.
Closeburn Chardonnay 2013: This Chard was fermented in 100% stainless steel so I was expecting a very light and fruit-driven style overall. I got that typical un-oaked Chard style, but there was much more as this wine spent 9 months on it's yeast less, considerably adding to the texture of the wine.
A lovely nectarine flavour on the palate, the Closeburn Chardonnay stuck around with a superbly long finish.
Judge & Jury Chardonnay 2011: This Chardonnay is grown on the slopes of the Lowburn sub-region, near the western shores of Lake Dunstan and is cropped at a low 3 tonnes per hectare. Partially barrel fermented in french barriques (30% barrique, 70% stainless steel) this wine has an excellence that certainly sets it apart from the few other Chardonnays in this region. Tight and full of minerality while still retaining the needed fruit weight to make this bottle shine.
Pinot Gris 2013: This fruit again comes from the Lowburn/Parkburn area of the Cromwell Basin, and is fermented in stainless steel before spending 8 months on lees.
Dry and full of a textural mouthfeel, this Pinot Gris keeps on giving with pear and spice flavours and a long dry finish.
Gewürztraminer 2013: From the Parkburn area of Cromwell, this Gewurtz has attractive notes of guava, rose petals and that familiar lychee aroma. Hand-harvested, crushed and left in skin-contact overnight before gently pressed, it is clear that a lot of love went into creating this wine.
Fermented in stainless steel and left for 10 months on it's lees.
Continuing on with the tasting we came to the Rieslings:
Riesling 2012: Fruit coming from the steep Lowburn Hills in the Vipers Vineyard.
This crop comes from the north-west facing slope of the vineyard and is left to ripen for longer period to allow grapes with lower acid and riper flavours which complement this Medium Dry style. 15 g/l of residual sugar with a sweet tang of honey and the zest of citrus the acidity keeps it all balanced.
Vipers Vineyard Riesling 2012: Coming from the same vineyard as the above Riesling, this single vineyard style wine was apparently especially made for the owner's German wife, and at 38g/l of residual sugar, medium sweet with 11.7% alcohol it was sure to remind her of home!
Juicy and sweet while still retaining that key acidity this wine is a great example of a traditional German-style Riesling done well here in New Zealand.
Last but certainly not least came this regions speciality: Pinot Noir , and Mitch had three examples for me to taste.
Riverrun Pinot Noir 2012: The regional example of Pinot Noir, a blend of 6 vineyards from both Cromwell Basin and a touch of the home Gibbston fruit. Classic with lighter red berry flavours and a dash of spice and earth to round it out.
Finla Mor Pinot Noir 2012: Grown from selected vineyards from the Cromwell Basin, the Finla Mor was named for the ancestor of the Hay family who founded the Chard Farm Vineyard.
Finla was the royal banner bearer for Scotland at the battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547 (it was the last pitched battle between Scottish and English armies).
The wine itself has an excellent depth, still young but with great tannins and a certain suppleness that I found very attractive. Age for 5-10 years with confidence.
Mata-Au Pinot Noir 2012: Coming from the Tiger and Viper Vineyards of Lowburn and Parkburn respectively this wine is named Mata-Au as this is Maori word for the Clutha River which formed the terraces and the alluvial schist on which they sit.
Now seen as Chard Farm's signature wine, Mata-Au has only been produced three times so far, as it is only produced when deemed of a high enough quality.
Amazing grippy tannins with a palate full of spice and dark berries and one of the most attractive lengths I have yet seen on a Central Otago Pinot Noir it is easy to tell why this wine is well spoken of.